Many newborn deaths from hypothermia in India can be easily prevented with regular temperature monitoring techniques and early intervention. A Bengaluru-based company has devised the perfect solution.
Divya lost her first baby to pneumonia within four weeks of his birth. Her second baby, Rithiksha, was born premature. After 10 days in the neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) she was discharged and sent home with a bracelet like device tied around her wrist. One night, the device started beeping continuously – this meant Rithiksha was slipping into a state of hypothermia. When the alarm didn’t stop even after she was covered with a blanket, Divya took her daughter to the hospital. The doctors found Rithiksha was suffering from a gastrointestinal infection that caused hypothermia, and could have died if immediate action had not been taken.
Rithiksha is a healthy kid today, thanks in large part to the Bempu Hypothermia Alert Device – the bracelet responsible for saving her life.
Bempu is a continuous temperature monitoring bracelet with an inbuilt thermometer, which ensures that a premature and low birthweight baby maintains a healthy temperature. It has a built-in algorithm that indicates if the baby is hypothermic or is slipping into a state of hypothermia. All one has to do is place the bracelet on the newborn’s wrist and wait for five minutes. If the baby is warm, a blue light starts blinking every 30 seconds. If the baby is cold, the bracelet sounds an alarm and an orange light starts blinking. This means the baby is entering the first stage of hypothermia, giving parents enough time to take action. As an initial step, caretakers are advised to warm the baby by holding him/her against the skin or by swaddling.
If the device continues to beep, it means that the baby is slipping into hypothermia because of some infection that needs immediate medical attention.
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The device works 24/7 for four weeks and has to be replaced if the baby still needs it.
Bempu, a Bangalore-based medical device social enterprise, was founded by Ratul Narain in 2013. After completing his graduation in Biomechanical Engineering and Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford, Ratul worked for about eight years in the cardiovascular and neonatal health space in different companies.
With the aim of using his biomedical engineering knowledge in the neonatal arena, he returned to India and carried out intensive on-ground field research for a year to explore gaps in need of attention.
Working with over 80 neonatologists and paediatricians across the country, he identified multiple problems. But what stood out most for him was that temperature monitoring, a very basic requirement for babies, was not being implemented in hospitals (usually because they were understaffed) or in homes (because most parents were unaware about this issue). A neonatologist told Ratul that once a baby was brought to her early in the morning and it was already dead. The most likely cause was the baby had suffered from hypothermia at night.
Had the mother been aware of the problem, she could have taken corrective action and the baby would have survived.
“Hypothermia is a condition that mostly affects high-risk, newborn, pre-term and low birthweight babies weighing less than 2.5 kg. Bempu is designed to take care of babies during the critical neonatal period – the first 28 days of a baby’s life,” says Mona Sharma, Product Designer at Bempu.
Hypothermia and infection are among the top causes of newborn deaths, which can be avoided with early intervention through temperature control. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature falls below 36.5 degrees Celsius (97.7 degrees Fahrenheit). “In India, about 92% of newborns will become hypothermic. One of three babies is born with low birthweight and 18-42% newborn deaths can be prevented with thermal care,” says Gini Morgan, Public Health and Partnerships Manager at Bempu.
In November 2014, Ratul was awarded a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to build a hypothermia alert device, which was prototyped and clinically tested within a year of funding.
The device was launched in October 2015 and has been commercially available since January this year. The company sells Bempu to doctors, who then prescribe it to patients. People can also order the bracelet online.
Sold for Rs. 2,000, Bempu is currently available in 150 clinics and pharmacies across India.
“Our organization’s mission is to radically improve health outcomes in resource-poor areas by delivering life-saving, affordable medical technologies,” says Gini.